Kids and Mobile Devices: What’s Up With Social Media? - Promise
Kids and Mobile Devices: What’s Up With Social Media?, Powered by Nemours Children's Health System

Kids and Mobile Devices: What’s Up With Social Media?

Mobile, digital and social media usage has played a predominant role in the lives of families for the past 15 years. But many parents still struggle to understand what’s happening when it comes to the digital usage of children, adolescents and teenagers. The generation of digital natives, often referred to as iGeneration, have immersed themselves in a world of apps, smartphones and tablets. It’s important for parents to know what’s being used and what for, as well as how to best protect kids as the digital world continues to expand.

Most Kids Have a Cell Phone

The Nielson fourth quarter 2016 Mobile Kids Report states that most children in the U.S. get their first mobile device and service at age 10 (some even as young as 8). These kids usually share the same plan as their parents, and most have all mobile wireless services including voice, messaging and data. Parents set their kids up with mobile devices to have a method of contacting them as well as to track their location.

Giving your child a cell phone definitely raises concerns. It’s a lot of responsibility: kids often lose their phones, and many parents know that they are a distraction. Often, kids spend too much time with their devices and parents have virtually no control over what children access online. In fact, almost 80% of teens surveyed by Common Sense Media admitted to checking their phones every hour. 72% feel the need to respond to messages immediately. And half of the teens polled think they’re addicted to their mobile devices.

In our first post in this series on children, mobile devices, and social media usage, we’ll discuss what your kids are up to on their mobile devices when it comes to social media. The following apps and sites are the most popular among adolescents and teenagers as of February 2017.

Snapchat: The One That’s Most Important to Your Kids

Snapchat is all about instant communication, through photos and videos sent and received. The key concept of “snapping” is that the pictures, videos, or messages sent are only available for a short time before they disappear. The temporary nature of the app creates a more natural flow of communication.

However, Snapchat has evolved and now has a wide range of capabilities that include live video chatting, creating Bitmoji avatars, and photo/video sharing via the chronological “story” feature. The app’s “Discovery” area highlights bite-sized content from major media players like Buzzfeed and Dailymail. It also features “Memories,” to save “snaps” and stories to a private storage area. Other Snapchat features include sending money through Square Cash, creating city-specific stickers to place on snaps and messages, adding filters and AR-based lenses to snaps, and showing live locations on a world map.

Kids love Snapchat for a variety of reasons:

  • It’s easy to use
  • It exists to share a moment
  • Photos convey the message
  • It’s authentic
  • They have control over who sees their photos/messages
  • They get instant feedback
  • It’s fun

Facebook: The App Everyone Uses

Facebook isn’t as important to kids as Snapchat, but most of them still have an account. It’s more likely that parents are much more active on Facebook than their children. If you’re one of the few people not using the tool, here’s a brief summary of the network.

Facebook is a social networking website and service where users can post comments, share photographs and links to news or other interesting content on the web. You can also play games, chat live, stream live video and even order food. The content that you share on the network can be public, shared only among friends and family, or with a single person. Facebook also has several accessories like Messenger, which is an instant message tool used between Facebook accounts.

Kids get a lot of their news from Facebook, but they’re not as comfortable with the platform because posts last forever and they feel a lack of privacy (not only because Facebook collects data, but because Mom and Dad are also on the network).

Instagram – The Photo Sharing App

Instagram is a social networking app made for sharing photos and videos from a smartphone. Everyone who creates an Instagram account has a profile and a news feed. When you post on Instagram, it displays on your profile and users who follow you see your posts in their own feed; likewise, you’ll see posts from users you follow. Just like other social networks, you can interact by following, being followed, commenting, liking, tagging and private messaging.

Instagram added the stories feature after seeing the success of Snapchat. Stories lets users post photos and videos that vanish after 24 hours. These stories also won’t appear on your profile grid or in the main Instagram feed.

Over the past year or so, Snapchat has seen a decline in use because of the introduction of stories and additional features to Instagram. It remains to be seen if kids will stick it out with Snapchat or migrate all of their social sharing and stories to Instagram.

Twitter – News and Networking in 280 Characters or Less

Twitter is an online news and social networking site where people communicate in short messages called tweets. When you tweet, you are sending a message that is 280 characters or less (take note, the character limit increased in 2017) to anyone who follows you on the network, with the hope that your messages are useful and interesting to someone in your audience. This is also called microblogging and kids use Twitter as a main source for news and current events updates.

Tumblr – Blogging and Social Media Community

Tumblr is part blogging tool, microblogging tool, and social community. It’s easy to use and works on every mobile operating system. Each user has his or her own “Tumblelog” where they can publish short posts of text, images, quotes, links, video, audio and chats. Users can also reblog a Tumblr post that was published on another user’s blog, similar to retweeting content on Twitter. Furthermore, users can like other’s content on Tumblr rather than publish comments as you would on a traditional blog post. Kids use Tumblr because it’s an easy-to-use platform to post blogs.

Extending Past Social Media Apps

The first step in understanding and opening the lines of communication with children on their digital usage is knowing what they’re accessing on their mobile devices. The apps described here are the most popular among children and teenagers, but it’s important for parents to note that new apps are built and put onto the web every day. There are also a multitude of smaller and less popular networks your child could be accessing.

And they’re not just using their mobile devices for social media and messaging. Kids also spend lots of time text messaging via SMS, WhatsApp or Messenger, watching videos on Youtube and accessing their school work via school apps, also known as learning management systems.

In the next blog of our series, we’ll discuss these other activities and apps your kids are accessing on their mobile devices. Then, in future posts, we’ll give you tips on how you can protect your digital natives by having agreements and open conversations.

Learn More

Teaching Kids to Be Smart About Social Media (KidsHealth.org)
Cyberbullying: What You Need to Know
10 Ways to Limit Screen Time

Meghan Tuohy Walls, PsyD

About Meghan Tuohy Walls, PsyD

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Meghan Tuohy Walls, PsyD, is a psychologist at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children and Nemours duPont Pediatrics, Jessup St. in Wilmington, Del.